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Congress Approves More Sanctions on Russia with No Debate or Recorded Vote

by Carl Wicklander, published
During the so-called lame duck session of Congress, a number of significant bills have passed with little or no debate. One was over

intelligence gathering and another increases sanctions on Russia and purports to allow the president to militarily arm Ukraine. In addition to being passed by representatives who will not face voters for two years, if ever, the bills are likely to chill relations between the U.S. and Russia even more.

The Ukraine Freedom Support Act -- HR 5859 and S. 2828 -- increases sanctions on Russia's main weapons exporter, the natural gas company Gazprom, and any company that exports weapons to Syria. HR 5859 was introduced on Thursday and passed by voice vote late that evening. The Senate bill also passed by a voice vote.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the original sponsor of the Senate bill, released a statement, saying, "This legislation sends a very direct message to President [Vladimir] Putin who must change his calculus in Ukraine and abandon his disruptive path."

Unlike similar, but failed measures, the bill does not go as far as conferring former Soviet republics Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine with "non-major NATO ally" status.

At the Cato Institute, visiting research fellow Emma Ashford writes about the military aid that would go to Ukraine:

"The bill authorizes the president to make available defensive weapons, services and training to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radar, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and command and communications equipment."

A week before these bills passed, the House also passed HR 758, a resolution that broadly condemned Russia and was called in some quarters a "declaration of war" against Russia. No companion bill made it through the Senate, but these bills, if signed, may have ramifications beyond weapons and training.

Although it has been an accusation mainly made by Russia, a fear is that weapons may end up being used by ultra-nationalists and other groups sometimes classified as neo-Nazis.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has awarded medals to figures associated with the far right who have been fighting against Russian-supported militants in eastern Ukraine. According to a report by the BBC, "neo-Nazis are indeed a fixture in Ukraine's new political landscape, albeit in small numbers."

Another fear may be that the military aid will be perceived as provocative by Russia and could lead them to behave more aggressively. Moscow has already threatened unspecified retaliation if the sanctions are enacted.

President Obama has expressed reluctance about issuing more sanctions against Russia and could veto the legislation. Regardless, the passage of these bills and HR 758 represent a continuing trend of making major policy moves with no debate during a lame duck session.

Image: U.S. Senator Robert Menendez / Source: Reuters

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